Morgan Spurlock is busy. The compelling and entertaining documentaries that he makes cut through the clutter of pop culture and do something remarkable, in fact almost unheard of these days: they create intelligent conversation. Fans of “Super Size Me” and “PM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” know they’re also personal explorations. Likewise, Spurlock’s latest project: hosting Current TV’s inspired five-part series “50 Documentaries to See Before You Die.” “It’s a great idea,” he told us during a calm moment during an otherwise hectic afternoon at home in New York City. “The whole thing was lots of fun. I got a chance to do something I love – watch documentaries.”
That’s the idea. Spurlock and an panel of experts that included fellow filmmakers Errol Morris, Nick Broomfield, and Stacy Peralta picked a list of 50 documentaries that they considered the greatest. They chose from films released during the past 25 years, a time span when documentaries “evolved into an increasingly mainstream genre, becoming a major box office draw and impacting society and contemporary culture in ways never seen before.” How’d they make their selections? Hear for yourself by clicking on the video below. “It wasn’t easy,” Spurlock says, laughing. “There were lots of debates. There still are.”
Each of the five one-hour episodes in the series counts down the 50 best, most profound and provocative documentaries. In each show, Spurlock also revisits several of the iconic figures from films ranging from “Paris is Burning” to “Hoop Dreams” to “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” In the opening episode, which aired August 2, he traveled to Florida and met Billy Mitchell, the legendary gamer profiled in Seth Gordon’s “King of Kong: A Fist Full of Quarters” (2007). (Spurlock found Mitchell at the Donkey Kong-themed arcade he opened in the main terminal of the Orlando airport.)
In episode two, Spurlock visited “Jesus Camp” (2007) subject Levi O’Brien. In episode three, airing August 16 (click on the RECORD SERIES BUTTON here so you don’t miss it), he talks with Michael Moore about making “Farenheit 9/11″ and then ventures to Hollywood to find out if Mr. Brainwash is who he says he is while discussing artist Banksy’s “Exit through the Gift Shop” (2010). In later episodes he reunites with “Hoop Dreams” (1994) subjects William James and Arthur Agee. “This turned into an opportunity to catch up and satisfy my own curiosity about what happened to these guys who were so memorable,” he says.
Spurlock’s own 2004 film “Super Size Me” makes the list, in a prominent place, though we won’t give the number away. Not on the list is his 2008 documentary “Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden.” Still, we couldn’t resist asking Spurlock where he was when the news broke that Bin Laden has been killed. “I was at home,” he says. “My cell phone started to buzz and ring. I ignored it. Then it started going crazy and I found out what had happened and turned on the news.”
In the spirit of the Current TV series, a number of the documentaries “you need to see” will be available on XFINITY On Demand, starting August 22. They include “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Capturing the Friedmans,” “Food, Inc,” “The King of Kong,” “Man on Wire,” “Roger and Me,” “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” and “Touching the Void.” Current TV will also be airing a number of the featured documentaries, including “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” “Bowling for Columbine,” and “Hoop Dreams.”